Tag Archives: safety

Cutting Corners Costs Lives: Non-Union Work Sites Twice As Dangerous As Union Sites

This large inflatable rat is a common sight at protests of non-union worksites in New York City.

Today’s post comes from guest author Catherine Stanton, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

As an attorney who practices in the metropolitan area, I often find myself traveling into New York City. I am amazed at the amount of construction that I see; the cityscape is changing and evolving rapidly. This construction boom means more business, a steady paycheck for workers, and more money for the city and state. Unfortunately, with the rise in construction also comes a rise in safety violations, injuries, and fatalities.

The New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) recently issued a report called Deadly Skyline regarding construction fatalities in New York State. A summary of their findings notes that from 2006 through the end of 2015, 464 construction workers died while on the job, with falls as the leading cause of death. When a fatality occurred, safety violations were inherent in more than 90 percent of the sites inspected by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). The report pointed out that non-union work sites had twice the safety violations of union sites, and in 2015, 74 percent of the fatalities occurred on non-union projects with the majority of the fatalities involving Latinos.       

It is painfully obvious that shortcuts and cost-saving measures result in injury and death. Many employers use misclassification as a means to save money. Misclassification occurs when an employee is labeled as an “independent contractor” so that a business owner doesn’t need to pay Workers’ Compensation insurance, Social Security, Medicare, or unemployment taxes. Some even resort to paying employees off the books as well in an effort to save money. This may not seem troublesome until you realize that this is a one-sided deal that really only benefits the employer. According to the NYCOSH report, misclassification of workers allows an employer to skirt the safe workplace requirement as OSHA does not cover independent contractors.

Employers must provide Workers’ Compensation insurance for their employees, and typically must notify their Workers’ Comp carrier as to the number of employees they have and the type of work they do. A risk analysis is performed and then employers are assigned a premium to pay in order to cover their workers in case of injuries. If injuries occur, premiums may be increased accordingly. Obviously employers in high-risk businesses must pay more for their premiums than those with employees involved in low-risk jobs. As injuries on misclassified workers do not add to an employer’s bottom line, there is less incentive to provide safety measures if it cuts into profits.

To make construction sites safe, NYCOSH recommends adequate education and training as well as legislation to punish those whose willful negligence causes a death. They also recommend passage of the NYS Elevator Safety bill that requires the licensing of persons engaged in the design, construction, operation, inspection, maintenance, alteration, and repair of elevators. It would also preserve Section 240 of the New York Labor Law, commonly referred to as the “scaffold law,” which governs the use of scaffolding and other devices for the use of employees. Weakening the Scaffold Law would shift safety responsibility from owners and general contractors who control the site, to workers who do not control the site and are in a subordinate position.

It is a true tragedy when someone is maimed or killed in an accident that could have been prevented. Not every employer engages in these tactics, and most workplaces are generally safe spaces for workers. However, even one death is too many. 

 

 

Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.

Finding A Way Forward: How I Am Greeting The New Year With Optimism

Today’s post comes from guest author Catherine Stanton, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

I recently saw a quote that said “we are all just a car crash, a diagnosis, an unexpected phone call, a newfound love, or a broken heart away from becoming a completely different person. How beautifully fragile are we that so many things can take but a moment to alter who we are for forever”.   

During this holiday season, many of us will get together with our families and friends to celebrate our blessings but never expect that in the blink of an eye our lives can change dramatically. A very good friend of mine was celebrating Thanksgiving with her family when a pot of boiling water fell onto her and she suffered severe burns. After spending nine days in the Burn Center and in weeks of excruciating pain, she is living proof that there are no guarantees in life.  

A recent report by Fox News USA shows that unintentional shootings spike during the holidays and are more likely to occur than at any other time of the year due to a number of factors, including increased use of alcohol, holiday gifts of firearms, and children and teens being home from school with more free time. Many of us now rely on online shopping for our holiday gifts, which increases the amount of delivery vehicles on the road. Car crashes spike, as the December holiday season is one of the busiest travel times of the years. Factor in weather that does not always cooperate, and impaired drivers on the road as a result of holiday gatherings, and it is a recipe for disaster. Those who drive for a living are at an increased risk of injury or even death. 

Those who work in the retail industry are not immune from increased risk of injury either. Many of us won’t forget the Black Friday stampede in 2008 when a worker was trampled to death in a Long Island Walmart. In response to that tragedy, the company was fined, they agreed to adopt new crowd management techniques, and  the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) issued Crowd Management Safety Guidelines for retailers. The stress of the holidays can cause depression, less sleep, and financial woes that can translate into violence. OSHA notes that workplace violence has remained among the top four causes of occupational death. 

But the promise of tomorrow brings optimism. As we embark on a brand new year, many of us will feel a sense of relief as 2016 was a year filled with turmoil. The presidential election was polarizing for many Americans. Friends became enemies and family members would not speak to one other. Many of us will look to the new year with a sense of a new beginning – a chance to have a fresh start, a renewal of sorts. Many of us will make resolutions to lose weight, to end a bad habit, to become a better parent, spouse or friend. Many will donate to charities. Despite our differences and shortcomings, Americans are among the most charitable nation in the world. According to Giving USA’s annual report in 2015, Americans gave an estimated $358 billion to charity the prior year. There are so many things we can do to improve our lives and the lives of those in our community and our nation. The list of possibilities is endless. For those of us who represent injured workers, we resolve to make workplaces safer and ensure that medical and indemnity benefits are available in the future. Wishing you all Peace, Love, and Good Health in the upcoming year.

 

Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy  Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.

A Day At The Amusement Park Can End In Catastrophic Injury

Today’s post comes from guest author Catherine Stanton, from Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano.

While at a party recently, a friend of mine was checking Facebook and relayed to us in a near panicked voice about an amusement park rollercoaster that fell off its track and killed 13 people. The group he was addressing had very mixed reactions. Some reacted with horror and shock, but others playfully advised him that they had seen this story before and it was actually a hoax. 

Thankfully that latter was correct and the story was in fact a cruel hoax. However, this served as a reminder that unfortunately not all visits to amusement parks end happily.  This is peak amusement park season as many camps are finished and summer vacation is still in full swing. I remember vividly going on class trips from Stella Maris High School to Great Adventure Amusement Park in New Jersey.  We were deposited at the park and directed to meet back at an appointed time. It was exciting as we were essentially left to our own devices. As we were all in high school, there were no age or height requirements put upon us, so no ride was off limits. We went on all the rollercoasters available to us at that time, all the thrill rides, and we were scared silly in the Haunted House.  All of the girls had a great time; we all returned to our assigned meeting place at the end of the day and were deposited safely back at the school parking lot. A year after I graduated from high school, a fire in the haunted house at Great Adventure killed eight teenagers. Even today, more than 30 years later, the memory of that tragedy still lingers. 

Most of the millions of visitors to amusement parks every year leave with fond memories. However, for some a day at the park ends with injury or worse, even death. Just a couple of weeks ago in London, four people were injured on a ride called the Smiler when it slammed into an empty car, and 16 people were left dangling for four hours. In 2013, a woman was killed in Texas when she was thrown out of her seat while on a rollercoaster. The causes of injuries or even death in amusement parks can include rides that malfunction, human error on the part of the operator or the participant, all of which may result in brain injuries, aneurysms, drowning, broken bones, or head, neck, and back injuries.

 

Currently there is no federal oversight of amusement parks. Regulation is left to the state and local governments. According to a  report in US News and World Report, some parks fail to turn in their safety reports that include affidavits in which inspectors attest they’ve performed the inspections required by law.  According to the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA), currently 44 of 50 states regulate amusement parks. Those that do not are Alabama, Mississippi, Nevada, South Dakota, Wyoming and Utah, and according to the website, these states have few if any parks.

Since federal safety officials are not allowed to address safety on rides, the state must bear the full burden of oversight that includes data collection, technical investigation of the accidents, and negotiating mitigation of manufacturing defects. It is debatable as to whether or not state or local agencies are putting the proper resources into these programs. Amusement parks can be a lot of fun but when it comes to putting your trust in the park, you should know the risks. Follow the safety regulations put up at the parks, know your limits, and have a great time! 

Catherine M. Stanton is a senior partner in the law firm of Pasternack Tilker Ziegler Walsh Stanton & Romano, LLP. She focuses on the area of Workers’ Compensation, having helped thousands of injured workers navigate a highly complex system and obtain all the benefits to which they were entitled. Ms. Stanton has been honored as a New York Super Lawyer, is the past president of the New York Workers’ Compensation Bar Association, the immediate past president of the Workers’ Injury Law and Advocacy Group, and is an officer in several organizations dedicated to injured workers and their families. She can be reached at 800.692.3717.   

Pacific Topsoils Fined $199,000 for Safety Violations Related to Death of 19-year-old

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has cited an Everett company for multiple safety violations related to the death of a worker last July. Nineteen-year-old Bradley Hogue was killed by a rotating auger while working inside the hopper of a bark-blower truck at a Duvall home.

Pacific Topsoils has been cited for two willful and 14 serious violations, with penalties totaling $199,000. The employer has also been identified as a severe violator and will be subject to follow-up inspections to determine if the conditions still exist in the future.

“The loss of this young man’s life is a tragedy that could have been prevented if the employer had followed basic safety and health rules that protect workers from moving machinery,” said L&I Assistant Director Anne Soiza. “We hope this citation and the penalties serve as a deterrent so that nothing like this ever happens again.”

Following the July incident that killed Hogue, L&I issued a bark and mulch-blower hazard alert to warn others in the landscaping business of the danger of working in hoppers while the equipment is running.

The L&I investigation found that Pacific Topsoils’ workers were regularly assigned to clear jams in the bark-blower truck hoppers while the hoppers were operating. This exposed them to three very hazardous elements: a floor conveyor belt, two rotating-screw conveyors (angled augers) and a rotating stir rod. Exposure to any of these parts of the equipment could potentially result in entanglement, causing severe crushing injuries or death.

Working in and around this type of extremely hazardous equipment requires “lockout/tagout” safety procedures to prevent machinery from starting up or moving during service or maintenance by workers.

The employer was cited for two willful violations. The first was issued for not ensuring lockout/tagout procedures were regularly used; it carries a penalty of $56,000. The second willful violation was issued for not training the employees in the proper use of those critical procedures; it carries a $52,000 penalty.

Additionally, working in the hopper of bark-blower trucks exposed workers to “confined space” hazards. Confined spaces, like hoppers, are areas large enough to accommodate a worker, but aren’t designed for continuous employee occupancy and have limited ways to enter or exit.

When a confined space has one or more hazardous characteristics, such as moving machinery or a potential for engulfment that may harm workers, it’s considered a “permit-required” confined space. That means employers must control access to the area and use a permit system to prevent unauthorized entry. Anyone working in or around a permit-required confined space must be trained and there must be safety measures and rescue procedures in place.

Twelve of the serious violations cited were for failure to implement safe work practices when entering a permit-required confined space. Two other serious violations were cited for not having an effective accident prevention program and for failure to document lockout/tagout procedures. Each of these violations carries a $6,500 penalty.

A willful violation can be issued when L&I has evidence of plain indifference, a substitution of judgment or an intentional disregard to a hazard or rule. A serious violation exists in a workplace if there is a substantial probability that worker death or serious physical harm could result from a hazardous condition.

The employer has 15 working days to appeal the citation. Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping workers and families of those who have died on the job.

For a copy of the citation, please contact L&I Public Affairs at 360-902-5413. 

Dept. of Labor and Industries Fines Battle Ground, WA Company After Worker’s Hand Amputated

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

The Department of Labor & Industries has fined a Battle Ground, WA plastic bottle manufacturer $86,800 for major safety violations after a worker’s hand was caught in machinery and had to be amputated.

Andersen Plastics was cited for one willful violation and six serious violations. The investigation found several problems with the company’s lockout/tagout safety program, a term that refers to the deliberate process of shutting down machinery to prevent accidental startup.

Failure to prevent machinery from accidentally starting puts workers at risk of serious injuries, such as the amputation that occurred in April when a worker was performing a routine task.

L&I cited the employer for a “willful” violation after the investigation found that workers were trained to use unsafe work practices, including bypassing safety guards and not ensuring the machinery was locked out so that it couldn’t start up accidentally.

A willful violation can be issued when L&I has evidence of plain indifference, a substitution of judgment or an intentional disregard to a hazard or rule. The penalty for the one willful violation is $58,500.

Additionally, the investigation found the company did not have specific procedures or a safety program to prevent accidental startup. The employees lacked training and did not understand the purpose or procedures for locking out equipment before making adjustments, performing maintenance or clearing a jam.

The inspection also found several other serious violations related to personal protective equipment and safe forklift operation.

Andersen Plastics has filed an appeal.

Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping injured workers and families of those who have died on the job.

For a copy of the citation, please contact Public Affairs at 360-902-5413.

 

Photo credit: Horia Varlan / Foter / CC BY

Major Asbestos Violations Result in Fines for Two WA Companies

Today’s post comes from guest author Kit Case, from Causey Law Firm.

The Department of Labor & Industries (L&I) has cited two employers for violations that exposed workers to asbestos during the demolition of a Seattle apartment building. Asbestos can cause cancer and other fatal illnesses.

An L&I investigation into the Seattle project found a total of 19 willful and serious safety and health violations. As a result, together the businesses have been fined a total of $379,100.

Partners Construction Inc., of Federal Way, was cited for a total of 14 willful and serious violations and fined $291,950. Asbestos Construction Management Inc., of Bonney Lake, was fined $87,150 for five willful and serious violations.

The violations were for asbestos exposure to workers, asbestos debris left on site and other violations that occurred during demolition of an apartment building in the Fremont neighborhood. The three-story, five-unit apartment building was originally constructed with “popcorn” ceilings, a white substance containing asbestos fibers, as well as asbestos sheet vinyl flooring.

Asbestos is an extremely hazardous material that can lead to asbestosis, a potentially fatal disease, as well as mesothelioma and lung cancer. Removal of asbestos-containing building materials must be done by a certified abatement contractor who follows safety and health rules to protect workers and the public from exposure to asbestos. The contractor must also ensure proper removal and disposal of the asbestos materials.

Partners Construction Inc., a certified asbestos abatement contractor at the time, was hired by the building owner to remove the asbestos before the apartment building was demolished.

After several weeks, Partners provided the building owner with a letter of completion indicating that all asbestos had been removed. When L&I inspectors responded to a worker complaint, the inspectors found that the removal work had not been done and approximately 5,400 square feet of popcorn ceiling remained throughout, as well as asbestos sheet vinyl flooring.

Partners came back to finish the abatement work; however, due to a prior history of willful violations, L&I was in the process of revoking Partners’ certification to do asbestos abatement work. In May, Partners was decertified and went out of business.

A new company, Asbestos Construction Management Inc. (ACM), owned by a family member of the Partners owner, took over the job using essentially the same workers and certified asbestos supervisor as Partners, and sharing the same equipment.

A subsequent L&I inspection of ACM found many of the same violations as in the Partners’ inspection. L&I has initiated decertification action against ACM.

The employers have 15 business days to appeal the citation.

Penalty money paid as a result of a citation is placed in the workers’ compensation supplemental pension fund, helping injured workers and families of those who have died on the job.

For a copy of the citations, please contact Public Affairs at 360-902-5413.

 Photo credit: avlxyz / Foter / CC BY-SA

The Vanishing Concept of a Job

Today’s post comes from guest author Jon Gelman from Jon Gelman, LLC – Attorney at Law.

While reviewing some historical cases today, I realized that what is missing from the workplace is the concept of “a job.” America’s economy has dramatically changed, and so have jobs that were once available its workforce.

Even clearer is the fact that the concept of a job has disappeared. The idea of getting up in the morning and going regularly to a job has even vanished. The evolution changed slowly with the young generation claiming that a job cycle transformed from a lifetime position to one lasting two years. Then the next stage in the evolution occurred, where the employee became a transient worker and daily the job changed and no stable employer really exists.

This evolution has eroded the underlining framework of a functional workers’ compensation program and the delivery of benefits. The injured worker becomes lost to the system, and a safe and secure workplace becomes an illusion. Lost in the complexity is the adequate reporting of accidents and occupational disease, and the ability to accurately follow the evolution of latent diseases and medical conditions.

“A new trend in the U.S. labor market is reshaping how management and workers think about employment, while at the same time reshaping the field of occupational safety and health. More and more workers are being employed through “contingent work” relationships. Day laborers hired on a street corner for construction or farming work, warehouse laborers hired through staffing agencies, and hotel housekeepers supplied by temp firms are common examples, because their employment is contingent upon short term fluctuations in demand for workers. Their shared experience is one of little job security, low wages, minimal opportunities for advancement, and, all too often, hazardous working conditions. When hazards lead to work-related injuries, the contingent nature of the employment relationship can exacerbate the negative consequences for the injured worker and society. The worker might quickly find herself out of a job and, depending on the severity of the injury, the prospects of new employment might be slim. Employer-based health insurance is a rarity for contingent workers, so the costs of treating injuries are typically shifted to the worker or the public at large. Because employers who hire workers on a contingent basis do not directly pay for workers’ compensation and health insurance, they are likely to be insulated from premium adjustments based on the cost of workers’ injuries. As a result, employers of contingent labor may escape the financial incentives that are a main driver of business decisions to eliminate hazards for other workers.”

Click here to read “At the Company’s Mercy: Protecting Contingent Workers from Unsafe Working Conditions”

Learning Ladder Safety could Save you from a Painful Injury

Today’s post is by my colleague Leonard Jernigan of North Carolina.

The proper use of ladders may seem like something better left to common sense, but it really isn’t. Employers explicitly need to teach workers how to use ladders safely.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says that “falls from portable ladders are one of the leading causes of occupational fatalities and injuries.” A few weeks ago a gentleman came to see me who had orthopeadic surgical wires and metal bars sticking out of his arm (for those who are not too sensitive, click here to see the photo)

He had fallen from a ladder about 15 feet and landed squarely on his hands and broke both arms.  No one was holding the base of the ladder and the ladder was more than 15 years old. Wires and metal bars were now holding his bones in place, and workers’ compensation benefits were holding him financially in place. However, since he was only making $11 dollars an hour his weekly compensation benefits were small. As you probably know, the Workers’ Compensation Act does not provide money for pain and suffering, or lost income from other jobs (think about the man who takes on two jobs to maintain a higher standard of living for his family; if he is hurt while working at one job, he is only paid for the income loss at that job, not both).

The employer has a duty to train and teach its employees how to use a ladder. Many employees (particularly young ones) have no idea how dangerous ladders can be: they assume the ladder will hold the load and will be secure when placed in position, and that it is free of defects, no matter how old. OSHA has a list of  safety considerations and these tips can be found at the Department of Labor’s web page (click here for a PDF version).

Click through for a graphic video of a ladder accident published by prevent-it.ca, a website run by the Province of Ontario (Canada)’s Ministry of Labor. Be warned that this mock-up video is a public service announcement intended to teach safety. It is scary and not for the faint of heart.

The next time you pull out a ladder at work or at home, think about these warnings and use proper safety techniques to avoid injury.

Image: Ambro / FreeDigitalPhotos.net